Combining Primary and Secondary Data: Opportunities and Obstacles

Dr Emma Smith, The University of Birmingham

Emma Smith

Emma Smith is Reader in the School of Education, University of Birmingham. Her research interests are concerned with equity issues in the field of education and in the role that educational policy can play in reducing inequalities and closing achievement gaps. So far her research has included boys' underachievement, barriers to participation in Higher Education, pupils' views of fairness and equity in school, formative assessment, teacher education and the impact of No Child Left Behind in the USA. One of her current projects is an ESRC funded study into patterns of participation in post-compulsory science programmes. She is the author of Using Secondary Data in Educational and Social research (Open University Press, 2008).


Over the course of the last decade the amount of secondary data available to researchers has increased considerably and at the same time has become much easier to access. While some groups of researchers have taken advantage of these resources and used them to great effect, it is often the case that this work has been concentrated among 'specialists' who work exclusively with data of this kind. In contrast, large numbers of researchers make very little use of secondary data in their work and often collect primary data in areas where comparable - but higher quality - secondary data already exist. This imbalance in the use of secondary data means that some data sets are being under-used - or being used only for very specific purposes - and that many researchers are missing opportunities to incorporate secondary data into their research.

This session provides an overview of the data sources available to academics and demonstrates how different types of data can be incorporated into research regardless of its substantive focus or research design. Particular attention is paid to how secondary data can be combined with primary data in order to produce high quality research outputs.

When this seminar was recorded Dr Emma Smith was teaching at the University of Birmingham. At present she is working at the University of Leicester.

Key Words

Secondary and primary data sources, research design, mixed methods, novice researchers.

Presentation Slides


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